JEDAH: Saudi Arabia was gearing up for “the biggest sporting event the country has ever hosted” when Formula 1 racing roars into Jeddah later this year.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, made his comment about the milestone sporting occasion when he spoke to Arab News ahead of the penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship being staged in the Red Sea port city.
Motorsport fans in Saudi Arabia have been rushing to snap up tickets for the first-ever Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix which will take place on the streets of Jeddah from Dec. 3 to 5.
Grandstand, premium hospitality, and paddock club tickets went on sale earlier this week and already demand in the Kingdom has been high.
Government restrictions on spectators at sporting events due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic mean that only a 40 percent capacity crowd can currently be allowed, but it is hoped that more tickets could be released over the coming weeks if the virus outbreak is contained through the global roll out of vaccines.
Prince Khalid highlighted progress on preparations for the event in Jeddah and spoke about the legacy the race would have going forward.
How have early ticket sales been and do you expect the capacity to increase from the current 40 percent restriction?
After tickets went on sale, we have already seen a strong demand in just the first few days. It’s important to say this race is for everyone. We want to offer everybody a fair price so fans can come to the race with their friends and family and enjoy an amazing event.
We love motorsport and we love Formula 1 in Saudi Arabia and the people have been waiting many years for a race to take place in our country.
Although the government has lifted some restrictions, we are still only allowed 40 percent capacity, but we are optimistic we can have full occupancy of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit by December.
With 70 percent of the population vaccinated (against COVID-19) and cases not as high as they used to be, we are heading in the right direction. This is great news for the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
What can fans expect when they attend the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?
First of all, the Red Sea and the Jeddah Corniche is one of the most amazing places in the world and the weather in December is beautiful.
There will be so much on offer during the three-day event which, aside from the Formula 1 race, will be full of many supporting activities and entertainment, with live concerts, great food, art, and culture to discover in the fan zones around the track and city.
We like entertainment and we like sports, and many Saudis have to travel abroad for many of these events. Now we can offer the people of our country our own unique experience.
Formula 1 street races are usually held on tight, twisty tracks, but the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is set to be one of the longest and fastest on the whole of the calendar. How did this come about?
We know with street races we are quite limited in our options due to the nature of the public roads, but the location we found in Jeddah wasn’t fully developed. That gave us a lot of flexibility to create a very fast street track which will provide us with a very exciting race with a predicted average top speed of over 250 kilometers per hour.
The initial plan was to create a permanent circuit and motorsports city at Qiddiya near Riyadh, and that will host a race in 2023. But as we have such a big fan base here, and 70 percent of our population are aged under 30, we wanted to accelerate our hosting of a Formula 1 race, so chose to create this street track in Jeddah.
As we are four months away from our first race, now all of the infrastructure — drainage, sewers, electricity — is all complete. We expect the track will be ready by early October and all the main buildings, such as the pits, done by early November.
Considering the restrictions of working under COVID-19 regulations, it has been a challenge, but we have a very professional team working on this project that has made this mission possible, not mission impossible.
This year there is a fascinating battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. What are your thoughts on Saudi Arabia potentially hosting the title decider?
I’ve really enjoyed the fight between the Mercedes and Red Bull this year. I was at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix recently and this is what everybody wants to see, the top drivers fighting for the title and for it to go down to the wire.
We wish for it to continue, and we don’t want either side to dominate. We want to see hard and safe racing and for the best team to win.
Why is it important for Saudi Arabia to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix?
It’s the next step on our motorsport journey. We first hosted Formula E, the Dakar Rally, the Cross-Country Baja Rally, and these have been very important for us as we wanted to showcase our country to the world. We also need to think about our future and tourism is important for our economy.
But it’s more than that. We are also bringing motorsport to the people of Saudi Arabia, not only for them to enjoy but to be inspired.
We are building a team to manage this race and as Saudis we want the majority of people who work on this project to be from this country. We have enthusiastic young people in Saudi to show the world what we can do as a nation.
Formula 1 is important to us because it is the pinnacle of motorsport, the most exciting race series in the world, and the biggest sporting event that Saudi Arabia will host.
What will be the lasting legacy of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?
We want to inspire people. We want opportunities to build careers in motorsport. One day we want to have a Saudi race driver, a man or a woman, racing in Formula 1 and winning the World Championship.
We want to have Saudi engineers, mechanics, marshals, journalists. For us it’s about building and creating an industry and we want events in the future to be organized and run by the locals here.
We are bringing the race to the Saudis for them to be a part of that story and to enjoy its legacy. That’s why it’s important to align with institutions, such as King Abdul Aziz University, and to have as many people as possible from Saudi Arabia engaged in Formula 1 and to be a part of this amazing opportunity. I can’t wait for the race to start.